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Interview with James Day

Quincy Jones of the New Millennium


James Day is back with his sophomore set, entitled Natural Things, and it seems that in a very short time, he has become one of the most acclaimed and reliable producers in the quality soul scene. James' taste in music seems to be very similar to us European soul enthusiasts, and what is very delightful for our Soul Express readers, he obviously also loves exactly the same artists that we have been promoting in Soul Express printed magazine and online in recent years. Or what do you think when you see the guest vocalists and musicians on James' latest set: Audrey Wheeler, Mikelyn Roderick, Karen Bernod, Ian Martin, Tim Owens, Gavin Christopher.... And what really makes yours truly regard him as the Quincy Jones of the new millennium, is that James is also able to find new talents like Jeff Ramsey, and wishes to be able to produce him a whole album in the future. Sounds mouthwatering!

Although everyone seems to know James (by name) already in the quality soul circles, I have not read a decent introduction of him, so I guess an interview with him is more than welcome. Ten short questions and his answers was the original idea, and OK, we continued the conversation a bit longer, and this is what he replied:

Soul Express: You mentioned in your email that you initially felt that Natural Things would be your swan song? Why is that?

James Day: Well, I'll always write songs, in fact I have some nice gigs writing for some artists I really adore right now... but in terms of making my own records, I don't think I'll be able to afford this again. I guess it will depend on whether people decide to support the music by buying it, or if they choose to obtain it some other way for free.

Soul Express: Hopefully at least everyone who read this interview decide to buy the CD! What I felt is that you have not been yet properly introduced to the soul world, and hopefully with this interview at least our readers know much more about you. Can you please tell how did you end up with producing quality soul artists and compiling "Quincy Jones"-type of albums jam packed with top soul artists of the day?

James Day: The song demos I was making to pitch to other artists were getting to the point where they sounded better than the versions people would reproduce for other artists records. And the singers I was using sounded better than the kids with the record deals. Many were background vocalists that had former record deals in the 80's. After one of my demos was plucked off my website by Roger Williams (a great UK DJ and good friend) & his tasteful wife Lettie, airplay & interest spread quickly. I decided I had to have some way of selling it. It started with the single 'Don't Waste The Pretty,' then came the EP 'Remember When,' and finally the full length CD 'Better Days'on Expansion.

Soul Express: Who are you main influences as a producer and a song-writer?

James Day: Quincy Jones & Rod Temperton, Ashford & Simpson, Arif Mardin, Patrice Rushen, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, Goffin & King, so many others...

Soul Express: Did you deliberately try to change your style into some way after your debut CD "Better Days"? If yes, in which way?

James Day: My forte has always been ballads, so it didn't take long before I had a few killer ballads for the record, so I DID make a conscious effort to deliver some really strong uptempos for this record and for the clubs. I also wanted to expand the definition of what soul music is to me... so we have some funk, jazz standard & even a lil disco influenced songs happening.

Soul Express: In your EP that preceded the debut album "Better Days", you had 2 songs sung by Mikelyn Roderick, but (to my great disappointment) she was replaced on the offical album release by other songstresses. What was the reason for that?

James Day: Well, they were recorded as demos and we didn't have official agreements for them to be released on a major indie label like Expansion. I had just taken her to London to open up with some of my songs for Frank Mccomb and she got a deal with Dome to make her own (stunning) solo album. We couldn't work out the details in time for my release. But we worked it out this time and Mikelyn performs many of my favorite tunes on this album.

Soul Express: Mikelyn is now featured on three different tracks and it seems that she has taken the place of Audrey Wheeler as your premier female guest. Can you tell something about that?

James Day: I'm fortunate that both Mikelyn & Jeff live in Boston so I got to work with both of them alot for this record. Audrey is in NYC so that means transportation & hotel fares for me. I actually would love to make solo records with ALL of them given the finances. Audrey gave amazing performances on this record as well as the first one and I blessed to have singers like this to work with.

Soul Express: Another long-time Soul Express favourite artist, Ian Martin is also featured on Sponsored by Love, your latest single release. How did you end up working with Ian?

James Day: I asked, lol! I LOVED Ian's record and the success of his songs 'Brother' & 'Movin On' were a big reason why I chose Expansion as my label. I thought his grooves and my lyrics & melodies would make a nice fit and I think they did! He was very generous with his time, talent, and resources for the collaboration, even bringing in the wonderful singer Deanna and Barry Manillow's Brass section!

Soul Express: On the title track, Audrey Wheeler sings your classic ballad tune with Walter Beasley blowing the sax. Is there any possibility of having a whole album by Audrey some day in the near future - and hopefully produced by you?

James Day: I would love to do a whole Audrey Wheeler album! If this record sells well, maybe Expansion would fund something like that. The best way to make it happen is to buy the record and let Expansion know you'd be interested in an album like that. We could do an amazing record together and maybe even get her husband Will (Downing) & daughter Aja on it. I already did a song with their daughter Aja with Audrey & Will singing backgrounds. I've even thought of doing an Audrey compilation where we opened with her biggest hits with Jeff Lorber, C&C Music Facotry, George Benson, Unlimited Touch etc. Then picked our faves from my 2 records and did some new stuff together to top it off. But... people have to buy music in order for artists to make new music. We'll see what happens with this record. It's the same thing with bringing artists over to do live shows, we have to sell records in order to do that.

Soul Express: Point taken! Very little is known about Jeff Ramsey (on the pic right), who seems to be another real diamond in a rough. Can you please tell something about him, and is he planning to record a whole album in the near future?

James Day: Jeff has one of my favorite, richest tones ever! I met him through Lalah Hathaway. He has sung backgrounds for Lalah, Al Jarreau, Maxwell and on records by Whitney Hoston, Celine Dion and Diana Ross. And yes, he IS making a solo record, something I've been after him to do for a LONG time.

Soul Express: Really looking forward for that release! Tim Owens has been recently touring with AlMcKay's All Stars, singing Philip Bailey's parts while Al has been performing classic Earth Wind & Fire songs. He duets with Mikelyn on my personal favourite tune of your latest CD, a track titled Any Kind of Love. Can you please tell the details of this particular song?

James Day: Ooh, I'm glad you love that song as much as me! Yes, Tim sounds wonderful on those background swirling around Mikelyn's gorgeous lead. I orginally wrote that song with Jeff Byrd who has had cuts with Lionel Richie and All-4-1 among others. It won us first place in Billboard Magazine's international song competition a long time ago. I always wanted to do a more mature jazzy version of it. A mutual friend of ours, Paula Galliatano, who had just finished writing & producing two songs with Lalah Hathaway on her latest record, was the perfect choice to bring these new elements into this song. She did a beautiful arrangement, played gorgeous piano, and like Ian Martin, invested so much time, talent, and resources into the song. She is THE hottest female arranger & producer today in my opinion.

Soul Express: Recording quality soul in 2009 is certainly not as profitable as it was back in the old days, but for us soul devotees your work has been extremely highly appreciated. What motivates you the best to do the thing you do while we know it cannot be "getting rich", can it?

James Day: I'm motivated by the love of the music, the vocalists, and the musicians. I'd be thrilled just to make enough of my investment back so I could make another one and do a tour.

Soul Express: Keep us informed when you are doing a tour I certainly won't miss that! Can you please tell me about your other future plans? James Day: If any big investers are reading this would like to hear solo records with any of these artists, we could defintiely deliver them! Hit me up! ;-)

Soul Express: Hopefully some of the millionaires are reading Soul Express Online, too! On the new CD, there are a couple of funkier cuts and probably also some more dance/disco-oriented cuts in the vein of Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band. Which artists were your main influences on the uptempo and funkier cuts?

James Day: Patrice Rushen, Incognito, Rick James, Quincy Jones even the UK Dance/Pop group 5 Star... remember them?

Soul Express: Well, I do at least! On the other hand, Mikelyn Roderick's "Stormy" sounds like a classic jazz composition, and yet the tune is brand new and written by yourself. Can you please tell something about this particular track?

James Day: I love writing what I call 'New Standards'... the first album had 'Remember When' and I wanted to do another for this record... this is the lyric and meldoy that came to me. I'm also lucky to have a local writer/producer/pianist Dow Brain who shares my enthusiasm for this kind of writing, and for every idea i have he has the matching chords! Dow and his parter Brad Young of Underground productions are my local heros... I could never make these records without their talent, time, and generosity.

Soul Express: Anything else you'd like to add?

James Day: Buy the CD! ;-) And thank YOU for the support! You & Soul Express have been great to me and ALL the artists I love! THANK YOU!

-Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express, editor


Read also:

CD Review: JAMES DAY Natural Things (2009)

CD Review: JAMES DAY Better Days (2006)